It Shouldn't Matter If You're Black of White
By: Joanna Jordan
Student Writer for The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Volume 17
It shouldn’t matter, unless you attend to the University of Alabama (UA) and want to formally pledge a sorority. UA is not a stranger to racial discrimination. Just fifty years ago Governor George Wallace attempted to ban two black students from enrolling in the school. Today, allegations of racial discrimination were swirling in the midst of the university’s Pan-Hellenic rush. The aptly named school newspaper, The Crimson White, ran the story when several sorority sisters stepped forward to speak out against what they view as discrimination on the part of their alumnae.
On paper, one candidate was the perfect sorority pledge. She graduated from high school as salutatorian with a 4.3 GPA. She comes from a family with deep historical roots in the community She even has direct ties to the school. Her step-grandfather is a trustee at the UA, as well as the first black federal magistrate in North Alabama. Her stepfather is a member of the House of Representatives. Yet sixteen sororities turned down this perfect pledge. And she is not the only one.
It amazes me that this story is coming out today. The strides we have made as a country are astounding. Perhaps I shouldn’t be amazed, though. As a woman of color, I am well aware that racism is not dead. During my senior year of high school my boyfriend’s mother told him she was glad he didn’t invite me to his prom because, “She’s black and I don’t want people to talk about you.” That was ten years ago. It still makes me stop short today. So what if people talk about me because I’m black, right? That speaks more to who they are than it does about me. I believe it should be the same for these sororities. So what if people talk about the sorority? It speaks more to the integrity and openness of the sisters to be colorblind and accept women no matter what they look like.
Most people don’t want to believe they are racist. The truth is, everyone is biased in some way or another. While it has become passé to be outright racist, I believe subtle racism imbues even the most diverse communities, including college campuses. By subtle racism, I mean accepted racism. It’s a gray area. When I encounter subtle racism, such as a racist joke told by a friend or every clerk in the store asking me if I need help finding something, I have to ask myself: is it worth the fight? Or do I just let it go and move on with my life? Most of the time, I just move on. In doing so, in accepting the racism, part of me feels like I’m betraying those who fought against racism, so that I can have the life I do today. The other part of me feels like, in a good way, I’m leaving the past behind me. Both are valid feelings. As for the UA, if some of the sorority sisters had not come forward publicly, this might be considered a subtle form of discrimination, because nobody was fighting against it. Until someone spoke up.
“Are we really not going to talk about the black girl?” Melanie Gotz asked. She is a member of one of the sororities that blocked recruitment of the black pledge. Gotz first spoke out in the confines of the sorority, challenging the alumnae who have a vote in the recruitment process. It is alleged that the alumnae would withhold funding if the sororities pledged a black woman. I find this incredible.
Though the same alumnae deny the allegations, it is difficult not to question why Greek life is divided so blatantly along racial lines on this campus. Only one black woman, Carla Ferguson, made it through the formal recruitment process since the school was desegregated fifty years ago. That was in 2003. One black woman does not integration make; instead she is the exception to the traditional rule. This is terribly sad.
This story excites me, though. Yes, discrimination is reprehensible. The narrow minds of the sorority alumnae are severely disappointing. But the dialogue that is finally coming to light is enlightened. Our generation, the Millennials, are standing up and saying no to the preceding generations’ viewpoints. They do not think what happened is right; but not only that, they are not standing down and accepting it. They are changing minds. This is so exciting. The complacency with which we typically live our lives is being replaced with a crusade. In the face of discrimination, voices still speak out. Feet still stand up. The fight is clearly not over and I am thankful to those who fight on. This is what is right.